Today's Topic:
The Geek Squad

I don't know who it was that figured out how to design products so that they go bad right after the warranty expires, but he was a genius—an evil genius, but a genius nonetheless. I can see him with wild-eyes and crazy hair, standing over an appliance with a stopwatch and cackling with mad glee as it falls apart just outside the allotted time limit. "Muahaha!" he cries. "Another consumer undone!"

Recently, we became a victim of this evil genius's schemes when our VHS to DVD recorder broke down just outside of the two-year warranty. We took it to Best Buy where the genius's Igor-like minions are trained in an organization they call, "The Geek Squad." Oh sure, the whole Geek Squad thing is a nice campaign, but as always, the reality doesn't match up with the marketing.

When we arrived at the store, we were shuffled from one counter to another until a member of the Geek Squad could be called out to help us. He had the right attire—the white shirt and the black tie. But the shirt was kind of wrinkled, and his demeanor was that of a dweeb who had just been delivered a crushing emotional blow by the girl he had finally gotten up enough nerve to ask out. No doubt, he had been left with two choices: end his own life or maybe, just possibly, sulk his way out of the break room and go help the older couple whose VHS/DVD recorder had broken down. Apparently, he chose the second, but he wasn't really committed to it.

Despondently, and with all but the last sparks of life drained from him, he struggled to take our information, making us repeat parts of it in hopes that he might catch a number or two in-between his moments of deeply troubled angst. After we paid him forty dollars, he told us in a barely audible voice that our recorder would be shipped out to the repair shop, and they would call us in a week with an estimate. That was the last time we saw him. I cannot report his fate.

It was quite a contrast, though, to the image we had been sold. When I hear the words "Geek Squad," I picture a team of energetic young men in horned-rim glasses who can fire off rapid-fire technical explanations and solve my problems within seconds using their electronic master-knowledge. But what we got was the equivalent of another fast food worker whose only true claim to authentic nerdiness was bad hair and who was nothing more than another slouch who had attained his Peter-principled level of incompetence. But perhaps I am being too harsh. Maybe it was just a bad day for the young man. Maybe the rest of the Geek Squad system would change my impression.

A week later, I called Best Buy to find out what was going on with the recorder. They hadn't called me yet, like they had promised, but they did have an estimate: $530.80, nearly twice the cost of the original recorder. "I suppose you want us to return it to the store so you can pick it up," the boy droned over the phone in a voice that sounded remarkably like Eeyore from Winnie the Pooh.

I played along and responded in the sagely tones of Mister Owl: "Yes, please ship it back, because you guys suck." (My Mister Owl needs some work.)

Several days later, we received a phone message from the Geek Squad repair shop. The girl who left the message was Eeyore's polar opposite. She was the Tigger to his Eeyore: bouncy, bouncy, bouncy, bouncy, fun, fun, fun, fun, fun. Which made her phone message hard to follow. She told us that the estimate for the repair was $495.85, and that they hadn't heard from us yet. It was only after listening to her message several times that I was able to write down the phone number she rattled off. I played it back an extra time to make sure I got it right and then called. I got a fax machine. So, once again, in my sophisticated Mister Owl persona, I contacted the local store and said, "What the hell is going on?" Just like Mister Owl always used to say in the Winnie the Pooh cartoons right after he shot up heroin and the hephalumps and woozles came trotting out.

The new Geek Squad person I talked to, who to my relief, was not in any way like a character from an A.A. Milne book (except maybe for Piglet) told us that the recorder would be returned to the store in an undisclosed number of days.

It was a blustery day when we got the call. The broken VHS/DVD recorder had returned, and we could pick it up whenever we wanted. We drove down to the store and retrieved it. While we there, we bought a new one, and, of course, we bought the extended warranty.

As we made our way to the cash register, the security cameras followed our movements. Somewhere, over a vast electronic network, an evil genius looked on and rubbed his hands with delight. I'm sure that as I handed my credit card to the cashier, the genius's thumb pressed downward and a stopwatch began to tick.